The first time I ever heard Maps and Atlases occurred in August of 2008 at Highline Ballroom in New York City where they opened for RX Bandits. Combined with seeing one of my favorite bands live in RXB and hearing the music of a band that would also become one of my favorites was a pretty good night. When Maps and Atlases came on, my friend Jim Dutch and I weren’t paying all that much attention…it was an opening band after all. Within literally 45 seconds of their first song we both took notice and by the end of their short set, we were literally laughing since a band who we could have cared less about totally floored us. Naturally, I picked up two of their EPs that evening, with this album as one of them.
Out in the landscape of music, there are some bands that cross genres while others create new ones. Maps and Atlases is truthfully a combination of the two. On the surface they are a math-rock band, but they add a twinge of folk into the mix that makes the band sound like pretty much no other. One thing that struck me that night in NYC was the sheer ability of the guys in the band musically speaking. Every single musician friend I know, at some point I always play them Maps first EP Trees, Swallows, Houses to acclaim every single time. Most people are really shocked at the fact that as much as the songs are dense and packed with shifts both musically and vocally, the songs are actually really easy and fun to listen to.
As good as their first EP was, You And Me… comes up a bit short. Like I said, the music has some pop sensibilities as compared to their first EP, which is fine to an extent. Still, it seems like the music has been watered down almost too much. Are the songs still full of technical skill musically speaking? The answer is an emphatic yes. At the same time, the band lost some of their complexity on this EP. They took the pop idea too far, and the band just doesn’t have that intensity they did on their first EP. Trees, Swallows, Houses is a rare kind of album where you hear it and think there is no way the band can top it. In Maps and Atlases case, they just didn’t,
Vocally, Dave Davinson has one of the most unique voices in rock music. It’s high pitched while not sounding like he is whining. A good comparison is Justin Pierre from Motion City Soundtrack; however Davinson has much more range to his voice. Drummer Chris Hainey proves on this album that sometimes a good drummer can carry an album. His performance just has to be heard.
It’s a shame. There is so much good on this album, from the vocals to the actual music. It somehow though manages to actually be less than the sum of its parts. If you are a newcomer to Maps and Atlases, try their first EP, it’s more experimental, while this one sounds like they had the goal of a pop hit which left the record almost dull compared to some of their other work. Good but not great.